RUSA to investigate privacy issues at U.


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Photo by Nicholas Brasowski |

The Rutgers University Student Assembly's proposed ad-hoc committee on student privacy first began as an effort to review alcohol and drug policies at the University. But after the suicide of University student Tyler Clementi, RUSA changed its focus on privacy.


The Rutgers University Student Assembly is in the process of creating an ad-hoc committee on student privacy, claiming many students are unaware of both University and residential life policies.

The main purpose of the committee is to not only conduct a review of all University privacy policies but to also educate students on such policies, said RUSA President Yousef Saleh.

"We will also be looking at the general pulse of the students — how they feel about their privacy or do they have any privacy," said Saleh, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. "It would be educating students on how to increase their privacy, whether it be on Facebook or in their everyday life."

After the death of University first-year student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate allegedly streamed a video of his sexual encounter with another man, there seemed to be a misunderstanding among students with online privacy, he said.

"People aren't aware that their information is available [through Rutgers'] search site," he said. "How do you empower yourself to take control of your information [on the Internet] and make sure it is not being used by people in the wrong way?"

Although the administration is not aware of this committee, RUSA will work with the University after the review is finished, Saleh said.

"We want to make it a student-led effort, and we will consult the administration with our findings," he said. "We might ask them for information about where we go to discuss a certain issue. That is the extent of it though."

Although the committee will review University policies dealing with privacy, there is more need to educate students because many are just unaware, said Kristen Clarke, University Affairs chair.

"We feel that there is a lot of disconnect between all of the various people involved — the students, Residence Life, [resident assistants], [Rutgers University Police Department]," she said. "So it's really kind of a fact-finding mission to see what the rules are."

Clarke, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said the reason for such disconnect could be the difficulty in finding the policies online. She added that even if students get to the website detailing University policy, some information is not updated.

"We're at a huge University … [and] it's just that there is a lot of people and a lot of information," Clarke said. "We just want to make sure that the information is getting to everyone that it needs to."

RUSA members started working on a committee over the summer that would review drug and alcohol policies at the University, she said.  But after Clementi's suicide, RUSA's University Affairs committee felt the problem of not understanding University policies was much bigger.

"The problem students had with drug and alcohol policies was that they weren't sure what their rights were in their dorm room," Clarke said.  "That goes kind of hand-in-hand with what happened [with Clementi].  Basically, what are your rights as a student in a dorm room?"

Although the University technically owns the residence halls, Clarke said a student lives there for many months out of a year, and the policies should represent that.

"So we're hoping to look into the privacy aspect and see if maybe the University policies do need to be updated," she said.

Dan Herbert, a Busch University Senate representative, championed the effort to create the ad-hoc committee and said students' difficulty to comprehend University policies was caused by "the Byzantine way of accessing it," creating a slew of misinformation.

"Students talk to one another and make stories about what a given rule is. You hear things from friends about a policy," said Herbert, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. "You wind up with a culturally formed idea of what the rule is without any basis or fact."

By handing out a pamphlet at first-year orientation or putting policy information online, Herbert said the University is satisfied with the notion that students are aware.

But Herbert said this is far from the truth.

"The reality is students don't pay a lot of heed to that because it isn't necessary at the time," he said.  "They're not going to research all of the laws so they are aware of them ahead of time.  It only starts to surface at a certain point."

A major focus of the committee goes further than just reviewing policies dealing with privacy in an actual residence hall, Herbert said.

"It's whether someone can enter your digital room or apartment," he said. "So all the drug and alcohol questions come down to what a University official or otherwise is allowed to know about a student without their expressed consent."

But Herbert said although online privacy is unclear for many students at the University, the method to monitor or explain such privacy policies is just as opaque.

"When you're talking about the concept of networks, you're talking about information traveling over Rutgers' wires and ending up on Facebook servers. So there is a real question of jurisdiction," he said. "I feel no part of society has figured out understandable ways of breaking up that jurisdiction."

Although the ad-hoc committee on student privacy will review University policies and submit recommendations to the administration, Herbert said this does not mean there are necessarily any problems or reasons for updates.

"We're not really aware of glaring issues," he said. "But the problem is that nobody would be because nobody has read the policies in a long time."

University policies can be found at policies.rutgers.edu and the Student Code of Conduct is located at judicialaffairs.rutgers.edu. Each website outlines every University policy dealing with issues of privacy, drugs and alcohol for students.


Devin Sikorski

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